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WPA Collection: Graphic Arts Processes


Wood Engraving - A Relief Process

       Flower Piece by John E. Billmyer
       Wood Engraving, 13 1/4" x 9 4/5"

Wood Engraving is based on the fact that any scratch or groove made on the smooth surface of wood will show as a white line on a black background when the surface is inked and printed. Wood engravers usually use the end grain of box wood whereas the plank wise or side grain is usually used for broader designs and the end grain wood is exceptionally well adapted to the most minute work. The design is engraved on the surface with various types of engraving tools. Each mark made by a tool will appear as a white line. The early wood engravers cut around the lines, producing black lines in imitation of a pen drawing. The later engravers in the latter part of the sixteenth century, starting with Thomas Bewick, consciously applied the use of the white line which is more in the nature of the medium. The history of relief printing is lost in antiquity; the Chinese seem to be the first of the civilized people to use it in approximately the form we know it. In Europe it was first used for making playing cards. The printing press was invented not more than about five hundred years ago. The clean crisp quality of the white lines, the ease with which it combines with type, the special character attained by virtue of the medium, has given it a well-deserved popularity in recent years. Many of the best contemporary artists, of whom Rockwell Kent is an outstanding example, have made it their chosen medium.

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